Russia could withdraw thousands of employees from the nuclear plant, according to a Ukrainian energy company

Russia plans to relocate about 2,700 Ukrainian employees from Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the Ukrainian Atomic Energy Company said on Wednesday, warning of a potential “catastrophic lack of qualified personnel” at the Zaporizhzhia facility. in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine.

Workers who signed employment contracts with Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom after Moscow took over the Zaporizhzhia plant at the start of the war should be taken to Russia with their families, Energoatom said in a Telegram article.

Energoatom did not say whether the employees would be forcibly removed from the plant and it was not possible to immediately verify Energoatom’s claims about the Moscow plan.

Removing staff would “aggravate the already extremely pressing problem” of labor shortages, Energoatom said.

Evacuation order

The region’s Moscow-based governor ordered the evacuation of civilians from the region last Saturday, including from the nearby town of Enerhodar, where most of the factory workers live. The full scope of the evacuation order was unclear.

Fighting near the plant has fueled fears of a potential catastrophic incident like that of Chernobyl in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a large area in the worst accident nuclear in the world.

Zaporizhzhia is one of the 10 largest nuclear power plants in the world. While its six reactors have been shut down for months, it still needs electricity and trained personnel to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Members of a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency visit the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on March 29. (Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty Images)

Kremlin-installed authorities in the Zaporizhzhia region are stepping up efforts to relocate local residents, including the families of factory workers, due to an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive, Kyiv officials said.

Moved to southern Russia

Military analysts say Ukraine could focus the counteroffensive on the Zaporizhzhia region, trying to split Russian forces in two by pushing to the Sea of ​​Azov coast to the south.

Relatives of staff at the Zaporizhzhia plant who agreed to relocate were taken to the Rostov region in southern Russia and placed in temporary camps, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

He said that factory employees are currently prohibited from leaving Enerhodar. He made no mention of the alleged Russian plan mentioned by Energoatom.

The National Resistance Center of Ukraine, which says it leads and coordinates Ukrainian partisan movements in territory occupied by Russian forces, said Russian officials based in Zaporizhzhia were closing schools, preparing buses and appointing officials to oversee the process. ‘evacuation.

They allege the process largely targets children.

The International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant for Russian leader Vladimir Putin on war crimes charges, accusing him and the Russian ombudsman for children of being personally responsible for the kidnappings of minors in Ukraine.

At the time, Ukrainian human rights chief Dmytro Lubinets said 16,226 Ukrainian children had been forcibly taken to Russia, citing data from Ukraine’s National Information Bureau.

“Seriously compromised”

After taking over in Zaporizhzhia, the Russians left Ukrainian personnel in place to operate the plant, but the exact number of workers currently at the plant is not known. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), did not immediately respond to a question from The Associated Press about troop levels.

However, the IAEA said shortly after Russian troops stormed the plant after invading Ukraine on February 24, 2022, that low troop levels “seriously compromised” one of the fundamental factors of the nuclear safety and security, namely that “operating personnel must be capable of fulfilling their safety and security obligations and have the ability to make decisions without undue pressure.”

The IAEA has deployed a handful of personnel to Zaporizhzhia in an effort to ensure its security.

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